Jesus searchingly asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” The episode in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke) in which Jesus asks this questions occurs within a fairly long and complex narrative. For our present purpose—which is more for meditation or reflexion—I will not engage in a scholarly interpretation, but bring out some of the meanings which the evangelist seems to be intending. In other words, why does Matthew report this question with its context? What is he saying to us, and why? Homilies this week-end and next will present, I hope, more insights into Christ’s Question than can be offered here.
A master teacher asks a probing question to guide his hearer, his disciple. Christ is the master Teacher and the master questioner. He does not crank out facile answers, but leaves his hearers wondering and seeking the truth by means of questions and provocative stories—often, in his justly famous parables. Heard well and properly, the parables lead one to make a firm decision for or against God. The questions open up a mind to reality, to being examined and searched by God: “Why you are afraid? Don’t you have faith?” “How long have I been with you, and yet you do not know me?” “When the Son of Man returns, will he find any faith on earth?” And today’s great question, the decisive one: “Who do you say that I am?” The answer we give is the life we live—or seek to live.
Jesus is not looking for “the right answer,” for a correct, churchy formulation, such as “You are the Second Person of the Trinity,” or “You are true God and true man,” or even “You are the Christ, the Messiah.” The formulas may be true enough, within the limits of words, and if properly understood; but Christ is looking for far more than words: He is seeking to cause a revelation. Yes, Jesus Christ has come to us, not to cause a revolution in society, but to provoke a revelation in his hearer. By his question, Christ is verbally laying his hand on the heart of his disciples, and seeking to pull back the veil that keeps them from seeing the truth of reality. He does not credit this divine action of unveiling or revealing to himself, but He credits the working of the unknown God, through the word of Christ, in the depth of his hearer’s heart: “No human being has revealed this to you, but my Father.” “The Father” is Jesus’ name for the unknown God, the depths of divinity beyond anything that can be known, felt, seen, experienced in any way. Beyond the Christ who questions you, is the unbounded One, that which simply is, the I AM.
The I AM indeed: for what “the angel of the LORD (Yahweh)” does to Moses at the burning bush, Jesus is now doing in the minds and hearts of his chosen disciples. The kind of response Moses gives to the Presence is extremely rare in human history, and so it is even among the disciples of Christ. For only one man speaks up, only one enters into the divine-human dialogue which Jesus instigates. The other 11 disciples remain silent; whether or not their minds have been unveiled on this occasion, we do not know. Perhaps, at this point, their inner hearts remain veiled. Why? The mystery of divine election (choice) is at work. Christ invited each man to open up to the truth of who he is, but on this occasion, only one responds, only one enters into the process of revelation. Jesus acknowledges this revolution of revelation: “Blessed are you, Simon Bar Jonah, for no human being revealed this to you, but my Father. And I tell you, you are Petros (Peter, Rocky), and on this rock foundation (petra), I will build my Community.” On what foundation is the community of Christ founded? Not on the man Peter or on any particular human being, but on the process of revelation in a human being—on the unveiling that takes place, not in a book or in an institution, but in a human being.
In you, in me, either the unveiling of our heart takes place to see and to communicate with the living God in Christ, or it does not. What matters is not information, but formation: One must be formed by Christ’s word, and respond with a quiet openness that allows the unknown God to pull back the veil covering the human heart from divine reality. When the unveiling occurs, then one enters into “the Kingdom of God,” that is, then one lives in God and for God. And that is a real spiritual revolution.